Women do a lot of unpaid labor, whether it’s childcare, housework, cooking, or coordinating. There’s another kind of unpaid labor that women do that we forget about. Moms are significantly more likely to volunteer at school than dads.
Every year my kids were in elementary school we received a “Volunteer Interest Form” with the kids’ first day packet. It had room for a parent’s name at the top, and then check boxes next to the activities that would need volunteers over the year so you can indicate if you were interested in helping with the book fair, or being the classroom photographer, or joining the emergency preparedness committee. The fact that there was 1 form, and room for 1 name at the top, perpetuated that idea that moms, and moms only, would sign up to volunteer at the school.
The assumption that moms will be the ones who volunteer at school is very deeply ingrained in everyone. Whether it’s the terminology like Party Mom, or the image in your head of a PTSA Board that is all female, or school teachers and staff who email only moms when they need volunteers, this assumption can be hard to push against because so many people aren’t even aware of it.
I understand that there are more stay at home moms than stay at home dads, and that it will be harder for working dads to find time to volunteer at their kids’ school. I recommend they do it anyway. I know many working moms who still find time volunteer, and my husband also volunteered at least every other week while our kids were in elementary school. Sure, people who work full-time outside of the home have to pick their volunteer jobs more carefully to make sure they can fit them in, but there are so many ways to help out at the school there is absolutely something for everyone. And there is no reason that only moms should do this necessary work.
Here are just a few of the reasons that dads should be volunteering more at school:
- It is never too early to teach our kids that all parents, not just female ones, care about education.
- Kids will learn that everyone, not just women, can do important work without getting paid.
- A bigger diversity in volunteers will offer a wider variety of experiences and approaches to learning, giving each child a better chance of connecting with someone who understands them. My husband still talks very affectionately of the little boy in 1st grade who never sat still, and who pushed so hard when he wrote he went through multiple pencils each lesson. His teacher struggled with him – Matt offered a little respite (for both teacher and student!) in the form of an adult who found this boy’s intensity endearing. Matt also had endless patience for kids telling him detailed stories about playing video games.
- Dads who volunteer will better internalize the needs of the school, and can join the efforts to represent those needs outside of the classroom when funding, votes, supplies, and other things are needed.
- Seeing your child in the classroom, meeting their peers, watching their teacher in action, gives you a significantly deeper understanding of what your child’s life is like. Parents who volunteer will be better parents for having this information. Dads deserve the chance to have this deep knowledge of their child in their role as parent.
- When dads volunteer, the volunteer pool will almost double, lessening the load for the moms who feel overwhelmed by how much there is to do.
Because Matt worked outside the home, he had to pick his volunteer jobs carefully. He also learned (just like I did) to be careful to pick jobs he wouldn’t hate. Here are some things my husband and I did to make it possible for him to volunteer:
- He talked to the teacher about which volunteer jobs would be first thing in the morning. Often reading groups, which required 1 if not 2 parent volunteers every morning, happened first thing. My husband could take the kids to school, stay for a 45 minute shift, and then head to work a little late that day.
- One year he was the classroom photographer. It was rare that there was an event he HAD to attend, so he was able to go into the classroom a few times on his own schedule to get the pictures needed. When there was something he really couldn’t miss that conflicted with work, there was always another parent attending who was willing to take a few photos, he just had to coordinate it.
- We often shared a single volunteer job and traded off every other week. This limited the time away from work for my husband, but still filled a full volunteer job for the teacher. We liked to do the weekly jobs that lasted the full year because he and I both enjoyed being in the classroom. You learn so much about your child’s teacher, their classmates, and their behavior in school when you’re there every week.
- There are many jobs that can be done from home. One year my husband was the classroom volunteer for the school marathon, which required him to tally how many laps each child had run during lunch that week and distribute the beads they could add to their necklace tracking their progress. Our son brought the bin home each Friday, my husband did the work over the weekend, and our son returned the bin on Monday. Definitely do-able with a full-time job!
If I haven’t convinced you yet, then take a look at this article, which says frequent father engagement can improve test scores, improve a child’s level of self-control, and increase long-term engagement with their kids as they get older. Or you can read this article about what it’s like from a dad’s perspective to be a volunteer at the school.
If you are a dad, consider volunteering in your kid’s classroom this year. If you’re a mom, ask your husband to join you when it’s time to sign up for volunteer jobs. If you’re not ready to change your behavior yet, at least be more cognizant of how deeply embedded the assumption is that moms, and not dads, will be doing all the volunteering at school. Then ask yourself if you really believe that’s what’s best for our kids.